Is Cold Calling Dead?

For years I have heard it said many times, “Cold Calling Is Dead”, and I still hear it today. Most often it is said by those who have never done it or just plain suck at doing it. As an essential tool for almost every salesperson, the phone is by no means an outdated tool for communicating. I last wrote an article on this topic some 15 years ago. While some of the techniques have advanced or morphed since then, the essentials are still the same. The name could stand an update, partly because of its negative connotation of timeshare salespeople and scammers, made all the more annoying with the introduction of those annoying robocalls that attempt to filter out non-buyers and pass interested people on to a live person.

It is important to know yourself…or your salespeople. Not everyone has the personality for cold calling. I have seen people flat-out freeze…then hang up. I had one person who spoke fine in normal conversation, but when nervous, he had a severe stammer. If this happens they should consider a profession other than Sales, one that does not require using a phone or speaking with people in stressful situations.

To put my background in this area into focus, I began my Sales career with EDS as a graduate of their acclaimed “Sales Development Program”…the graduates of which outsold their peers who did not go through the program by a ratio of 7:1. This nine-month program was a highly focused and specialized training to develop business development ninjas that could penetrate the C-Suite of F1000 companies with impunity. To do this, one had to learn to navigate enterprises and engage with target executives, initially by phone. Midway through my career, I started a Professional Search (aka: headhunter) firm, a role that essentially required 80+ calls a day on average to get started. Within my first two full calendar years, I had grown the franchise from start-up to one of the top 10 of 220 offices in the Global Recruiters Network (GRN) franchise system worldwide. So, yeah, I’ve made more than a few calls to people I didn’t know before I called them.

Based on my training and personal experience, here are my 8 Rules for Successful Cold Networking:

Rule #1: Call With a Purpose. As I stated earlier, “Cold Calling” could stand a rebranding. I think the better way to look at it is as “Cold Networking”. Take for example the full-desk professional recruiter. The primary goal of their business development “cold call” is to get a contract with the person on the other end of the phone. If they have picked the right candidate to market, and the right target market into which to present the candidate, this can happen fairly easily. There was one candidate we marketed that became our ideal example. Her name was “Dottie”. We successfully got 7 contracts in 1 day promoting her. Five companies interviewed her multiple times within 3 days, and by end of day Friday, she had a new job paying 60% more than she was being paid by her previous employer. This underscores the first of the 8 key principles of “Cold Networking”… call with a purpose, but also be flexible.

Rule #2: Don’t be a One Trick Pony. By being flexible and genuinely listening to the prospect, they may reveal a better or different opportunity. So to be clear, the recruiter made 80 calls that day. Not everyone needed Dottie. But they may have needed someone with different skills. Ummm…okay. It’s still a contract to search for another person! Still doing good. Others were simply not hiring.

Rule #3: Always Add Value When You Call: So plan C: “Okay. So if I found the perfect position for YOU, what would that be?” Now I have flipped the script. I went from looking for a contract to looking for a candidate that may fit a current search or a future search. By listening, and being flexible and allowing the conversation to unfold, you will likely find a way to make the person feel the call was a good use of their time and receptive to a future call.

Rule #4: Never Stop Networking. Then, in closing, NETWORK, by asking, “Who do you know that could use someone like Dottie?” This circles you back to the original intent of your call, finding someone to hire Dottie. This accomplishes two things: First, you may get a lead that will hire Dottie, and it may be a “warm” lead. Second, it expands your pool of contacts and may surface people to call that were not in your database.

Rule #5: Have a sense of urgency. Selling “large” deals is a relative term. If you are selling television monitors and get a contract for a half-million dollars in a single deal, that’s a “large” deal in your world. If you sell cars, selling 3 Lamborghinis might constitute a large deal…unless you are in fleet sales and sell 500 Toyota Camrys at $20,000 each. Then that might be a “large” deal. In the world of outsourcing, large is an order of magnitude larger. A “large” Outsourcing deal is typically anything over $100 million dollars (Total Contract Value or TCV), and a “Mega Deal” is anything over $500 million (TCV). They do get bigger than that. Consider JP Morgan ($2.8 billion), Bellsouth ($7.2 billion), or DuPont ($6.0 billion) as examples. To sell large, “enterprise” deals, one must network like a spider building a web, making connections between seemingly random points of contact. It’s important to understand the people you are seeking do not know you exist, they do not know what value you offer, they may have never heard of your company, but they are on a mission to get something done. Every day you postpone is another day closer your prospect is to do a deal. If you delay, the deal will still get done. It will just be done without you. The founder of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), Darwin Deason, was known for his “Hustle” principles. One of these Hustle principles was: “Good things come to those who wait, but usually it is just the crumbs left behind by those who HUSTLED.”

Rule #6: Networking for Business is Not Linear. Many who are not believers in Cold Networking will often point to Social Media as the better alternative as if the decision was which ONE to use. I don’t see it as an “either/or” decision. I believe in an “All of the Above” approach. It matters not how you reach someone or learn of a person with whom to get an introduction on LinkedIn. At some point in the selling process, especially large deal B2B deals…you will likely need to speak to someone, in person or by phone, with whom you never met before. The earlier in the sales process in which you establish the relationship, the easier it will be later in the sales process.

Rule #7: Keep Sacred the Golden Hours. When making the decision to incorporate Cold Networking into your daily routine, it is essential to not allow yourself to get interrupted. This is especially true if you have not resigned yourself to this business skill as being essential to growing the business, since everything else will seem like a convenient and justifiable distraction. Once you make the commitment to grow your business, find a quiet place with no distractions from which to make your calls. Have your call list for the day printed and ready to go, because, yes, technology sometimes doesn’t work when you need it. At 9:00am, pick up the phone and call the first number on your call list. A good practice is to pick 2-3 calls to start that are lay-ups to get the train out of the station and establish positive momentum. Make your call notes on your printed call list to be entered into your CRM (or Excel spreadsheet), AFTER you have finished making ALL your required calls for the day. Trying to record your notes after each call as you go will only slow you down and prolong your agony. After you finish making your 40, 60, 100 calls each day, you will have plenty of time at the END OF THE DAY to enter your notes into the contact’s record. It’s worth noting, in a typical day of calling, you will only have a conversation with the person who was your target, about 20-25% of the time. The other calls will be wrong numbers, voicemails, an assistant, a new person in the role, the company went out of business, or whatever. In other words, 75-80% of the time you will not actually speak with your target. So if you are making 80 calls, and 60 of them are not successful, that will take less than 2 hours to get through those 60…if you are focused. When your calling is done for the day, and the notes have been entered, build your list for the next day and print it off before you leave for the day, so the next day you will have one less excuse for not getting on the phone again at your scheduled time. Whether you are targeting 20 calls a day or 100 calls a day, will call 2 days a week or five days a week, set aside a realistic amount of time to complete them and allow nothing else on your calendar during your prime calling hours.

Rule #8: Focus! When calling many people a day, week, or month, it helps to have focus. Create your target call list with a singular purpose. Call one industry, or one profession, or one position as part of your campaign design. For example, you decide you want to target the CFO. Calling ONLY people with that title will enable you to develop a rhythm with your calls and your conversations. You will not stumble over the specific lingo the CFO uses, or lose sight of what this position typically values in your service. Calling the CFO, CEO, VP of HR, and Director of Claims Administration successively will be a bit bewildering, and your delivery likely will not be as crisp.
If you adhere to these 8 Simple Rules for Cold Networking, your success on the phones will surely increase. It matters not if you are making 20 calls a day to existing clients (a good practice for every senior executive), or making 80-100 calls a day doing enterprise selling, or are an insurance agent prospecting for new clients. If you regard the calls as conversations, not sales calls, you will relate to people better, establish rapport easier, and set the stage for continued dialogue. How is it any different than going to your neighborhood BBQ and meeting your neighbors for the first time? Or when you attend a tradeshow or conference, strike up a brief 2 minute conversation with random people you never met before, then exchange business cards. The only thing missing is the phone. So just relax, and learn to enjoy it. If you get good at it, your success will be its own reward.


Thom Mead is the Director of Marketing for DATAMARK, Inc. For nearly 30 years, Thom has been leading Marketing & Sales for some of the most well-known companies in the Outsourcing industry including EDS, ACS, Unisys, Spherion, EXLservice and Firstsource, where he has been at the forefront of predicting and implementing many industry firsts. Thom can be reached at 

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